Clemens keeps eyes on prize 4th Cy Young Award would be consolation

September 27, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

The leaves are falling throughout New England and the air has turned cooler, but somehow September doesn't have the usual feel to Roger Clemens.

The Boston Red Sox right-hander is as dominant as ever, ranking in the top five in the American League in seven different pitching categories and seemingly on target to contend for his fourth Cy Young Award.

But, for perhaps the first time since he became a regular with the Red Sox, Clemens, who faces Rick Sutcliffe this afternoon at Oriole Park, and his teammates are playing out the string, waiting for a long season to end.

It's not a feeling Clemens is accustomed to.

"Since I've been here, September has meant something every season," Clemens said. "This year, we're just sort of playing the role of spoilers."

While the usually lively Red Sox bats have stumbled to a .245 team batting average -- second worst in the American League -- Clemens continues to roll along.

He leads the American League in ERA (2.41) and shutouts (five), is second in innings pitched (246 2/3 ) and complete games (11), and is third in wins (18) and strikeouts (208).

In addition, batters are hitting just .224 off Clemens, the fourth-lowest mark in the league.

Those numbers aren't as dominant as any of Clemens' three Cy Young years, but perhaps good enough to get him a fourth. The Orioles' Mike Mussina, Chicago White Sox's Jack McDowell, Texas Rangers' Kevin Brown and Oakland Athletics relief ace Dennis Eckersley are the other leading contenders.

Clemens' success in the face of the Red Sox's woes has been bittersweet.

"This has probably been the most frustrating year," he said. "The numbers are there, but we're not going anywhere. But you've got to keep the adrenalin flowing."

Lately, there has been enough going on in the Boston clubhouse to keep it flowing.

Clemens and third baseman Wade Boggs were involved in a recent flap, when Boggs contacted the Boston official scorer to have a grounder by the Detroit Tigers' Tony Phillips changed from an error to a hit.

The scoring change increased Clemens' ERA slightly, hurting his drive for the Cy Young Award. Clemens publicly expressed his displeasure with Boggs, citing instances when he had bore down on opposition hitters to give his teammate a better chance to win a batting title.

Boston manager Butch Hobson eventually called the two veterans into his office, and Boggs and Clemens declared the matter settled.

Through the travails, Clemens has kept to his nearly fanatical training regimen, and at 30, he is at top physical condition.

"He's very religious when it comes to keeping himself in condition," said Boston first-base coach Al Bumbry, a former Oriole. "He's boosting up his exercise. His approach has always been the same: intense.

"I'm glad he's on my side. From when I played, Nolan Ryan was the pitcher I would compare him to. I knew when I played, because Earl [Weaver, former Orioles manager] was platooning then, I was going to face Ryan, and I never looked forward to coming in to face him. I wouldn't look forward to hitting off Roger now."

As the dominant pitcher of his era, Clemens has gained the kind of stature accorded Ryan, his boyhood idol, in that he has become the kind of pitcher that other pitchers sit and watch and hope to emulate.

"If you watch him, and I know I will, he just seems to have everything," said Orioles pitcher Ben McDonald. "When he first came up, they said all he had was a fastball, but he's got so much more."

With today's start and one more before the end of the season, Clemens has a chance for his fourth 20-victory season.

After that, Clemens will head up the pitching delegation of major-league all-stars who will play eight games in Japan in late October and early November against their Japanese counterparts.

"That's what I'm looking forward to, going across the ocean, taking some good thoughts, absorbing the scenery," said Clemens.

Given his druthers, though, he'd rather be in New England, pitching for a title.

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